Madadayo

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Madadayo (1993) is the story of a high school German teacher in Japan in retirement and his devoted former students, who visit him, celebrate his birthday every year and who come to his aid when he’s in need is a slice of life film.

Unfortunately, the film dragged and got to sentimental for my taste. Lasting over 2 hours the film seemed much longer. I enjoyed seeing how devoted the former students were to their teacher and to each other, but that was the only good thing. The birthday parties and drinking parties got repetitive.

I suppose the climax of the film, which was written by Akira Kurosawa, was when the teacher and his wife lose their beloved stray cat, Nora. The students, now business men, do everything they can to find the cat as its loss has traumatized the teacher so much that he doesn’t bathe or eat. For a man who was supposed to be so philosophical and wise, I’d expect him to take a bath during the months the cat was gone.

There are better Japanese films. Watch something else.

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Having Our Say

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Based on the lives two delightfully wise and accomplished African American sisters, both of whom are over 100 years old, Having Our Say lays out the history of racial matters from the Gilded Age all through the 20th century. Sadie and Bessie Delaney recount their rather unique heritage as their mother was 25% black and never tried to pass as white. Their white grandfather and Black grandmother couldn’t marry as it was illegal in the south until the late 1960s. Still they raised their family and attended a church that came to agree that okay the only reason you aren’t married is that you can’t be so we’ll welcome you.

The play is structured as a long conversation with a reporter, who’s represented by the audience. The stories range from charming and fun to raw depictions of injustice. Yet at all times the sisters are victors not victims. Neither married and both attained professional status in an era when few African American women could. Their father was a bishop and insisted his daughters go to college, though he stipulated that they work first because he had no money for additional schooling and would not allow them to obtain scholarships because he believed that would make them beholden to whoever supplied the scholarship. Both met his challenge without complaint. Sadie became the first colored* (sic) high school teacher in her all-white high school and Bessie became the first colored woman to be licensed as a dentist in New York.

The women recount their experiences and heritage from family stories of slavery to their own experience with Jim Crow and Civil Rights. Throughout we hear their family stories, wisdom and witticisms.

This production had an inventive set that featured picture frames which would show old photos of the friends and family Bessie and Sadie were describing.

The acting was superb and I’d love to see Ella Joyce (Bessie) or Marie Thomas (Sadie) in another play. The pair brought great energy and chemistry to the play.

My only wish was that the play had more of a plot. As it stands it’s an adaptation of a memoir. So it’s a chronological telling of lived experiences. While these second and mainly first hand accounts are interesting, they aren’t as dramatic as a play that uses Aristotelian principles to give a story plenty of momentum.

I’d prefer a structure like that of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a former slave who recounts her memories on up to the 1960s. Such a play requires more characters and sets, hence more money, but it offers more suspense. Nonetheless, this is a good production, well worth seeing.

*The women didn’t feel Black or African American were terms that described them well. They were American. They felt “colored” was more accurate than Black.

Job Hunting

I shake my head whenever I think about this. I never thought this new job offer would become so confusing and annoying.  I haven’t even been up to writing about it, though I’ve mentioned it ad nauseum to my friends. Now I’ve been approved to keep my current job so all’s well. It didn’t look good 10 days ago though.  Here’s a run down.

As I said when I got the offer, I asked about housing and was told it was available for all teachers recruited from abroad. That’s why I accepted the job.

Then the new teachers got an email about 60 days of temporary housing. What? That’s not what I wanted, considering Macau’s the 5th most expensive city in Asia. I wrote to the director explaining how important housing was to me.

A week later all the new teachers got a long email and one of the items was housing. We were told that all new hires would get housing and that anyone who wanted housing had to apply for it. Is this too good to be true all of a sudden? We’ve gone from 60 days of temporary housing and the possibility of campus housing in January to immediate campus housing.  That’s good.

Well, by Monday, the relief had worn off and I was back to doubting. According to a PowerPoint on how to apply for housing, everyone must apply for housing. Housing would be allocated according to job title, family size, and a few other criteria. Distinguished Professors get 75 points, Professors, 60, Associate Professors 50,  Assistant Professors 40 and lowly Senior Lecturers and Secretaries 20.

Twenty?! Talk about insulting.  Now I would get 10 points for getting recruited from overseas, but I am single so unless I get a live in maid, which would net me 10 more points, I don’t qualify for the additional points for a spouse or children. Since I’m new I can’t claim credit for years of service.

The contract arrived on Monday. After marveling at the Portuguese, I got an English translation. The contract states that it supersedes all other communication between the employer and employee. Seems the email promising housing would count for nothing. Also, once you sign the contract, you have to give three months notice before quitting. So if someone signs it today and finds out July 15th, she doesn’t have housing, she either works for at least a semester or pays three months wages to the school. I’m not sure how they’d collect, but that’s what is stated.

Another interesting document came with the contract. It was a booklet explaining what income and assets teachers, as government employees have to declare. Macau wants to end corruption, which is admirable. They require people working in Macau to declare property, income, investments, jewelry, boats, and airplanes owned – whether they’re in Macau or elsewhere. Employees must declare such assets with a value over 500 points. I couldn’t figure out what a point is worth, but it was interesting that they insist on this. How would they check the veracity of foreign employees’ declarations?

Not my problem as I’ll be back in Jinan, but it’s interesting.

That 20-point scheme for English teachers is just galling. I bet it indicates how we’re treated across the board.

Chicago Public Schools Strike

Years ago I read a story in the Chicago Tribune about a Chicago Public School teacher who reprimanded a student for not having his homework or not paying attention in class. She hadn’t been sarcastic or unprofessional in her choice of words, yet the boy felt embarrassed in front of his peers. I think we can all remember times when we did or didn’t do something in school and we got called on it. We were in the wrong, but it still felt bad.

This boy sought revenge. He wasn’t going to let this incident go so he took a hammer to school and when he had an opportunity, he hit his teacher again and again. This Chicago Public School teacher suffered permanent brain damage. Her family lost the woman they knew and had to adjust their lives as a family who’s father is a cop and he’s been shot or beaten. At least though, the police officer would have been trained and armed to defend himself.

Do you see why I side with the Chicago Public School teachers as they strike for a professional wage and object to accountability standards that are unrealistic given the challenges they face? Before the Chicago Public Schools test out merit pay and such new measures, Skokie, Glenview, Evanston and Waukegan and other communities with fewer challenges should see how it works first.

It does look like the parties will soon make a deal. I don’t think missing a week of school isn’t educational. I think, if they examine the situation, older students will certainly learn something quite important.

Standing Up for EFL Professionals

I ran across Association for Teachers of English in Korea (ATEK), an interesting professional association’s website this morning. My first guess was that some professionals in Korea were tired of KOTESOL’s lack of advocacy, much needed advocacy for teachers and they banded together to get some equity. Yet later as I read through the website, I saw that they state that advocacy isn’t their main mission. Evidently, the Korean government prohibits foreigners from engaging in local politics, even foreigners who have lived and will live in Korea for years and years.

Here’s a portion of a letter they wrote to the Korea Press Ethics Commission:

DATE: July 13, 2009

TO: Korean Press Ethics Commission

FROM: Association for Teachers of English in Korea

RE: Negative Representations of Native English Teachers in the Press

Recently, there has been an alarming increase in the number and severity of negative articles about foreign English teachers living in Korea. This is not only damaging to teachers, but also to the society as a whole because it weakens the social contract for everyone.

The Korean Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the press as a basic right of citizens, with prior censorship banned, but qualifies free expression. Article 21(4) provides that “neither speech nor the press shall violate the honor or rights of other persons nor undermine public morals or social ethics. Should speech or the press violate the honor or rights of other persons, claims may be made for the damage resulting there from.” This association is not seeking damages; only fair treatment in the press.

It is the duty of a free and independent press to present the news as it happens, and to provide facts, context, and analysis. Professional news organizations, and indeed all mass media outlets, have a responsibility to adhere to the agreed upon journalistic standards of practice.

The current trend in reporting on foreign teachers does not meet the standards set in the Korean Code of Press Ethics.

[Click to read more]

Bravo! It’s good to see professionals taking the high road and holding people accountable.  Too often EFL teachers behave like they need to suffer any and hall hardship and disrespect just so they can take some breadcrumbs and scrape by. Sad to see college educated people do so, but it’s common. I’m not sure how successful ATEK is, but they fill a void. KOTESOL puts on a good conference and maybe should stick to that while other groups get teachers the rights they deserve for their hard work.

Weird

I had a weird experience in class on Friday. As I was teaching, a young woman with big pink glasses walked into my class. She told me she needed a native speaker to review a speech she was writing. I asked her who she was and she replied, “Daphne” and mentioned that she wasn’t a student here.

Huh?

I said I had no time at all that day.

She then asked if I’d refer her to another teacher. I said that since she wasn’t a student here, she’d have to pay and that I thought most teachers would expect at least $50 a hour.

She got real huffy and indignant. “What kind of teacher are you?!”

Rather than define “professional” for her, I asked her to leave reminding her that the 30 students gawking at her were in fact in the middle of a lesson for which they had paid. She didn’t want to budge. I told her I’d call security and she left sputtering and insulting me.

So are all Chinese students shy? Of course not, though few have this audacity.

I now won’t leave my door open no matter how hot the room gets.